It’s something straight out of Charles Dickens, maybe even Sherlock Holmes. Tweed jacket. Tie. Wing-tipped lace-ups. His legs are crossed, and a hand rests affectionately between the ears of a loyal canine companion. Except it’s not the face of an English gentleman, like Bob Cratchit or Dr. Watson. It’s octopus-esque, subterranean.
“It’s Cthulhu,” a cosmic character from 1930s fiction writer H.P. Lovecraft’s The Call of Cthulhu, Jennifer Allen explains to me. Allen, the master illustrator behind Bone & Ink, pens these uniquely juxtaposed black-and-white depictions with expert flair—like Fancy Paddy, furbished in Victorian female fashion, brooch and lacy collar included. But rather than a distinguished lady, Paddy is a terrier. Or Gentleman Buck, a deer skull dressed in suspenders, bow tie, and bowler hat.
“I’ve always drawn or painted,” the Greenville native says. “Da Vinci’s etchings are amazing, and that inspired me. But I also grew up watching a lot of X-Files, a lot of science fiction. So that’s where this comes in.” Allen points to a penguin skull. “I really liked the way the shadows fell on the bones.”
During high school, Allen attended Eastside and the Fine Arts Center, where her artistic talent thrived. And while she dabbled in paint, her true passion was pen illustration, utilizing cross-hatching to explore value and depth. After studying graphic design for a time in college, Allen felt she was pursuing the wrong path. That’s when Bone & Ink blossomed.
Through this avenue, Allen has drafted dozens of vintage characters with chimerical twists. There’s Medusa, the Grecian myth depicted as a sideshow performer, snake skeletons woven into her hair. A Victorian woodland princess, Alice’s Daughter, placed fourth in Metropolitan Arts Council’s Flat Out Under Pressure in 2015. Her latest series, displayed during Warehouse Theatre’s The Flick, is a layered tribute to classic films (Allen is an old-movie buff)—Rhett Butler’s profile peers out between two halves of a Scarlett O’Hara portrait, drawn in dip pen.
“It’s a little more illustrative, more organic feeling,” Allen says. “You have to be very mindful of not going too dark and being careful with each line. I like that meticulousness.”
It’s this penchant for detail, and her ability to transform accidental lines into purposeful placement, that transfers well to her latest endeavor, tattoo artistry. “I’ve wanted to translate my drawings into tattoos from the very start,” Allen says. “I do a lot of art shows, and I at least have three people every show ask if I tattoo.”
Allen is now apprenticing at Anderson-based parlor Just Another Hole in the Wall, where she observes other artists while they ink and practices on rubber hands until she completes the 1,000 hours needed for certification. Though she’ll continue her paper illustrations on the side, Allen is thrilled to be expressing her peony florals and comical fox skulls on a new canvas.
As she reflects on this new adventure, Glinda the Good Witch from the The Wizard of Oz comes to mind. “The quote ‘You’ve always had the power, my dear, you just had to learn it for yourself’ really resonated with me,” Allen says. “This is just the start of my dream, and I can’t wait to see where it takes me.”
To view Jennifer Allen’s work, visit boneandink.com or follow her on Instagram, @boneandink.